What I Wish I Knew Then

In Getting Older, I Found My Voice

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            People-pleaser, that was me. Why? It’s simple. It takes courage to disagree.

Pleasing those around me made life so much easier—no disagreements, no fights, just bland acceptance. I had it down to a science. It was something that I did for years because I wanted people to like me and because I didn’t want contention. I didn’t want to make waves so I became the agreeable ‘good girl.’ I even cut my hair into an awful short style that I hated simply because someone said I’d look better with short hair. I allowed people to subtly insult me and smiled through the hurt.

When I look at pictures of myself as a young girl, young teen and young woman, there’s always a moment of mild surprise at the naked innocent hope that I see. There’s a look of expectation on my face and a too ready smile that begs people to like what they see. I know the reason for my hopeful, begging smile. I had learned early on to put myself last and become a people pleaser. I don’t see that look in later pictures of me. I see confidence and a strong sense of self that I wish I could give to the younger me in the older pictures.

That good girl persona lasted until a strange thing happened one day at a magazine where I was working. On that day I disagreed with a colleague’s political views and something wonderful happened—I found my voice! And when I found that inner voice straining to be let free, I found my strength. The people around us at the time were astounded by my disagreement. A few even made comments about how mistaken I was in my viewpoint—how dare I disagree with an older, more learned colleague—but I stood my ground. I voiced my views again and it seemed as if nothing could stop me. That voice was unleashed and eager to be heard! For the first time in my young life I saw grudging respect in the glances of my co-workers. I would be a people pleaser no more.

I want to take that young woman, the younger me,  who was so eager to be liked that she lost a part of herself, gently by the hand and tell her that pleasing yourself first is so much more important than pleasing others. You place so little value on your own being when you live to please others. And you lose a very precious thing in the bargain—your voice and the right to your own opinion.

I was so eager to please people that I denigrated what was important to me, even the weather. I hate the cold and love the heat but when anyone would say, “How can you like the hot weather? What’s wrong with you?” I would smile and shake my head shyly. If I was ever asked that today I would say, “I’m not asking you to like it, I like it and that’s what matters.”

That young, pretty woman who was me, the one with the yearning smile on her face, tugs at my heart. I want to hug her. She so needed to have someone like the me I am today talk to her and tell her not to be afraid of disagreements or even fights. That’s a part of life that shouldn’t be avoided because it helps you learn who you really are. I would tell my younger self to value her opinions, speak out, live life on her terms even if others were displeased by that fact, and forget about being liked. Being liked for being compliant is wrong.

From the vantage point of being a ‘certain age’ I would say that the younger me needed to know one solid, simple rule: Make your own life priority number one. Remember that by always being the ‘good girl’, the hopeful people pleaser, you are making life good and easy for everyone—but you. Live, learn and become the real you.

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